Formula One - On and Off track week 4

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Formula One - On and Off track week 4

Since the FIA announced a radical new engine formula for 2013, a number of names of engine and car manufacturers have been mentioned to make a return to Formula One. One of those companies is Porsche, the German car manufacturer who became famous...


Porsche and Formula One, The FIA academy, Formula One's obsession of overtaking

Porsche and Formula One

Since the FIA announced a radical new engine formula for 2013, a number of names of engine and car manufacturers have been mentioned to make a return to Formula One. One of those companies is Porsche, the German car manufacturer who became famous with what must be one of the most classic sports car designs of all times: the Porsche 911. Porsche has been extremely successful in sports car, touring car and endurance racing, and have won about every championship they have entered during the last five decades. Although it was a long time ago, Porsche has been active in Formula One as a constructor and engine supplier as well.

Dan Gurney won the 1962 French GP in a Porsche 804.
Photo by Dave Dyer.

The original founder of Porsche, Dr Ferdinand Porsche, already designed Grand Prix cars in the 1920s and 1930s, before there was an official Formula One championship. In 1958 the first Porsche appeared on the circuit of Zandvoort, piloted by privateer Dutchman Carel Godin de Beaufort, who finished 11th in his Porsche RSK, powered by the Porsche flat four boxer engine. Godin de Beaufort participated in 31 Grands Prix from 1957 until 1964. During the practice sessions for the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in 1964, he lost control of his Porsche 718 at the famous Bergwerk corner, the same corner where Niki Lauda had his fiery accident in 1976. The Dutchman was thrown out of his car and sustained fatal injuries, he died in a hospital in Cologne three days later.

The Porsche works team entered Formula One in 1961 with American Dan Gurney and Swede Joachim "Jo" Bonnier, and Porsche ended third in the Constructor's Championship that year. In 1962 Porsche won their one and only race with Gurney at the wheel: the French Grand Prix at Rouen-Les-Essarts. He finished one lap ahead of South African Tony Maggs and American Richie Ginther. Porsche abandoned Formula One in 1963, it was too expensive and the results were not as they had hoped for.

But in the 1980s turbo era, Porsche made a successful come-back, this time as engine supplier for the McLaren team. In 1983 Porsche supplied TAG (Techniques d'Avant Garde) badged water cooled V6 turbo-charged engines to the McLaren team. Lauda won the championship in 1984, Alain Prost in 1985 and 1986, and McLaren also took the Constructors' Championship in 1984 and 1985. The TAG-Porsche engines won a total of 25 Grands Prix, and after the 1987 season Porsche again withdrew from the sport.

The German engine builder made a second come-back in 1991, and supplied engines for the Footwork team. The double V6 engine was in fact a combination of two 1987 TAG-Porsche engines without the turbo chargers, but was way too heavy and too slow. Porsche's return became a disaster and Footwork even failed to qualify for the majority of the races in 1991. It was the last time a Porsche engine was seen in Formula One.

And now a big leap back to 2011. Porsche is a highly successful and also very profitable car manufacturer, and Formula One could be the right platform to promote the Porsche brand. Volkswagen now owns Porsche, and VW's representative Hans-Joachim Stuck has hinted 2013 could be the right moment to enter Formula One. But Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller has put a lid on the speculations about VW and Porsche and has said there are certain drawbacks. "There are undoubtedly some attractive aspects in Formula One. But there are other sides to it as well. Formula One is very expensive, while success is far less predictable [than in other series], said Mueller. Without a doubt he was referring to BMW and Mercedes, BMW withdrew in 2009 and the new Mercedes GP team is plagued by disappointing results and high costs, which make the Mercedes shareholders nervous.

The new engine specification was announced by the FIA last year, but a few teams have criticized the FIA proposal, and the plans for the 1.5 liter four-cylinder twin turbo-charged engine still have to be approved by the teams. This engine should become the standard Formula One engine for six years, starting in 2013. The new engine rules, combined with a hopefully financially more favorable new Concorde Agreement for the teams, could certainly be an incentive for new teams to enter Formula One. But the current regulations also state there can only be a maximum of 26 cars at the start grid, and as last year the FIA didn't even bother to open its doors to a 13th team, it remains very doubtful whether there is even room for new teams to enter Formula One in 2013.

The FIA academy

FIA logo.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The FIA is not just the governing body of Formula One and other race series, they are also active in marshal training, consumer automobile testing, road safety, environmental protection and sustainable mobility. The FIA Institute is the educational branch of the FIA, the institute offers official safety training and medical programs, young driver safety programs and is also the home of the new Young Drivers Academy. The FIA Institute last week announced they have selected 19 candidates for a three- day shoot-out, the 10 best drivers will make it to this year's Young Driver Academy, a program that prepares young drivers to compete at the pinnacle of motor sport.

The list includes drivers from Bahrain, Netherlands, France, Spain, Israel, UK, Estonia, Norway, USA and New Zealand. To make it to the Academy they must prove their driving and non-driving abilities, but it is not just about driving skills, they will also have to actively promote the principles of safety, fairness and responsibility both on and off the track. The Academy is funded by the FIA Foundation, a FIA branch that promotes road safety all over the world.

The FIA Institute has teamed up with former Formula One driver Austrian Alexander Wurst and Scottish former World Rally Champion co-driver Robert Reid, both will lead the Academy selection process and training program. Wurz is already looking forward to the training program, "I am delighted that so many young talented drivers have applied to participate in the first ever FIA Institute Academy. It demonstrates that this type of training, focusing as much on the classroom as on the track, is highly desirable for young competitors looking to develop and progress their careers in motor sport."

Prof. Sid Watkins, former official Formula One doctor, now the president of the FIA Institute, is equally enthusiastic, "The Academy program aims to ensure that our future stars are not just quick but also have the education and attitude that you need to succeed at the very top level. Alex and Robert have done just that and their contribution is invaluable to this important project."

The 19 finalists are: Kevin Abbring and Robin Frijns (Netherlands); Hamad Ahmed Al Fardan (Bahrain); Paul-Loup Chatin and Norman Nato (France); Albert Costa (Spain); Alon Day (Israel); Phillip Eng (Austria); Adam Gould (UK); Timmy Hansen (Sweden); Egor Kauer (Estonia); Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway); Jan Skala (Czech Republic); Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium); Richie Stanaway (New Zealand); Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden (USA); and Joni Wiman (Finland) and Molly Taylor from Australia.

The man to watch: Alexander Rossi.
Photo by GP3 Series Media Service.

Two American drivers have been selected, 19-year old Alexander Rossi, who was a finalist in the Red Bull American Formula One Driver search and won the Skip Barber National Scholarship in 2006; and 20-year old Josef Newgarden who participated in the 2010 GP3 Championship in Europe. And last but not least, one female driver was selected, 22-year old Australian Molly Taylor, who has been active in several rally championships in Australia and the UK.

Keep your eyes on these candidates, one or more of them will without a doubt make it to the pinnacle of motorsports, whether it is rally, touring car or single seater racing. And especially for the American public, keep your eyes on Rossi, he has proved time after time he is very fast, he won the Formula BMW USA series with 10 wins out of 15 races, and won the 2008 Formula BMW World Championship, which earned him a BMW-Sauber test drive that same year.

Formula One's obsession of overtaking

Although the 2010 Formula One season was without a doubt one of the best and exciting seasons in the history of the sport, with four title contenders at the start of the very last Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, there are still people who think Formula One isn't exciting enough and needs more overtaking. It's an unsolved mystery where they got that idea, there were more overtaking maneuvers last year than were seen in the five year before 2010. It is true some back markers have sometimes made it difficult for the faster drivers on the track, but that is an age-old problem and has nothing to do with the alleged lack of overtaking.

This year the adjustable rear wing and the re-introduction of the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) system should create more overtaking opportunities. In 2009 the KERS system indeed provided extra speed, but as the opponents of 'artificial' overtaking already have said in the past, this advantage is equal for all drivers, provided all drivers have a KERS system on board. If all cars are equipped with KERS, it becomes a strategic weapon, he who knows best how and when to deploy the system, will benefit the most.

Another problem with KERS is that it is still not mandatory, and the small and poorer teams have already announced they will not use it this season, as they think it is too expensive and would rather spend that money on improving the aerodynamics of their car, from which they expect to gain more overall speed. Technically speaking, the system is also very complicated, and engineers are reluctant to use it, as they already have enough technical problems with their car without such a system.

The adjustable rear wing is a novelty, and the FIA has made several changes to the regulations to ensure the wing can only be deployed to overtake another car, and cannot be used as a defensive weapon, or is used to gain a speed advantage on the straights. To prevent the wing from making overtaking too easy, it can only be used when certain conditions are met.

The wing can only be used at a certain zone of the track, where exactly will be determined by the FIA, and its use will be carefully monitored during the race. The wing can not be used during the start and during the first two laps after the start of a race, or during the two laps after a race has been started or restarted behind the safety car. The wing will be primed (made available) by the FIA when a driver is less than one second behind another car, and as said only in a specific zone, a light in the cockpit will tell the driver he can use the system.

Overtaking is no problem for Kobayashi.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The FIA will monitor the use of the wing with GPS technology, which is so accurate it can tell exactly where a driver is and how close he is behind another driver. The GPS system is in fact so accurate it can tell if a driver has gone off the track by just 1 meter, and the system then automatically shows yellow lights at that specific part of the track, without the aid of marshals. But it is not the possible unlawful use of the wing that concerns fans and drivers, people who oppose the system fear overtaking will become too artificial.

Overtaking by the push of a button seems very unfair to the one who is being overtaken, he can only sit and watch another car go past him. Some feel it would do the opposite: it could spoil the spectacle instead of improving it. And is it really true Formula One needs more overtaking? During last year's Japanese Grand Prix Kamui Kobayashi proved it is possible to overtake even faster cars, there are some risks involved, but those risks in fact provide extra excitement for the spectators. And it has been said before: it is not the overtaking that provides the thrill, it is the chase and the attempts to overtake that provide the thrill.

Join us again next week for another episode of "Formula One: On and off track"


See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 3

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Series GENERAL , F1